Attributed to NEIL BROWN, December 26, 2009
UNLIKE most people, who think Copenhagen was a failure, I think it was a great success. It has preserved the golden rule of international diplomacy.
Years ago, when I was a young fellow and started to go to international conferences, an old hand who was about to retire took me aside. ”I’ll be shoving off into retirement soon,” he said, ”so I thought I might pass on the golden rule of international conferences.”
I was fascinated. I was sure he would say I should always pursue noble objectives, lift up the downtrodden masses of Africa and Asia, stamp out disease and poverty and generally bring peace to the world. Alas, no.
”The most important item on the agenda at any international conference,” he resumed, ”is to fix the date of the next meeting – and of course the location.”
However – and it was a big however – if a conference succeeded in wiping out poverty or pestilence, there would be no prospect of trying to go to another conference the following year on the same subject. Concentrating on the date of the next conference would guarantee poverty and pestilence would still be there the next year and would provide the excuse for another year’s travel, entertainment, spending other people’s money, passing pious resolutions and generally being self-important, all of which are the only reasons for being in politics or diplomacy.
I soon learnt that seasoned players on the international scene knew very well the vital importance of the golden rule. For example, Sir Owen Dixon told me that when he was appointed the first UN troubleshooter on Kashmir, he went to New York to recruit an assistant. Someone recommended a young man in the UN building who, believe it or not, actually had the job description ”to bring peace to the world”.
”Do you like your job?” Sir Owen asked. ”Well, at least it’s permanent,” he replied. This young man, who had a stellar career at the UN thereafter, was right, because the intractable problem of Kashmir has, by definition, still not been solved and in the intervening years has provided immense fodder for studies, working groups, theses, working breakfasts, dinners, lunches and, of course, international conferences.
Statesmen and politicians did not achieve all of this by solving the problem of Kashmir; they did it by failing and by making sure that next year the crisis would be the gift that keeps on giving.
There was also a secret protocol to the golden rule, shielded from the prying eyes of the public as far as possible – to make sure that the location of the conference was somewhere nice, for example, fleshpots such as Casablanca, holiday spots such as Bali or ski resorts such as Davos.
The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating. Thus, despite the fact that almost everyone says that Copenhagen was a success because it narrowly avoided being a failure, the cognoscenti know it was a great success because it was such an appalling failure.
First, climate change is as bad as it ever was. None of the weasel words of progress and achievement about keeping temperatures down can conceal the good news that the whole thing was a disaster.
If the alarmists are right, climate change can only get worse. If they are wrong, the issue still is likely to have such life in it that it could last as long as Kashmir before the truth dawns.
Second, since Kyoto and again since Bali, we were told incessantly that Copenhagen was the last chance to prevent the world being plunged into a watery grave. Everyone was going to Copenhagen in the belief that it was a last chance to save the planet.
When I heard this, I mourned for the international political and diplomatic brotherhood of which I was once a part; they clearly were not going to be able to stretch climate change beyond Copenhagen as the excuse for more conferences, new taxes, tougher and more complicated laws and the perpetual extortion of money from poor workers in rich countries to rich kleptomaniacs in poor countries that foreign aid has become. Some other issue would have to be found.
Fortunately, this has turned out not to be the case. Mercifully, climate change will be there for at least another year to take its vengeance on a profligate and decadent world. It will provide the excuse for conferences next year and for years beyond. So also is the secret protocol intact: conferences on climate change will never be held anywhere near Darfur or Bangladesh.
Neil Brown is a barrister and former member of Federal Parliament, h/t to Geoff Sherrington.